NO GEAR LEFT BEHIND!!!

Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_0469_edited-1People love to fish and so do wildlife! The big difference between humans and wildlife is wild animals do not need nets, fishing line, lures, hooks or plastic bags when fishing. Therefore, they leave nothing behind that will harm or kill anyone or anything. Left behind fishing gear kills! Wildlife Rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport know this all too well and cringe every time a seabird, wading bird, grazing bird, mammal or turtle is admitted due to the ingestion or entanglement of fishing litter. It’s so painful for the animal and in many cases renders them unable to eat which leads to starvation. Sometimes the devastation is less obvious and can not been seen without x-rays because the animal has swallowed a hook or lure. This type of injury is so frustrating and heartbreaking to wildlife care givers because it is human-caused and therefore, preventable. Nets, lines, hooks, crab pots, shrimp traps or any other fishing equipment abandoned by a boater or someone fishing on shore is considered derelict gear, which labels a fisherman or woman neglectful and irresponsible. This type of dangerous litter is usually made of plastic and doesn’t decompose in water for possibly hundreds of years. Recently, a mature Red Eared Slider was admitted to our shelter who had tried to swallow not one but two fishing hooks. We managed to carefully remove the three pronged hook with bait still attached from his mouth without too much trouble or damage to tissue, but the long, single pronged hook was so embedded in the roof of his mouth and out the side of his cheek, it required a committee discussion on how best to go about getting that out with minimal damage or killing the turtle. Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_6413He may not have been noticed or made his way to us if he had become entangled in the line attached to the hooks. Turtles are air-breathing reptiles. When they are caught underwater on a line or in a net, they will drown because they are unable to reach the surface for air. When an animal is entangled in fishing line that has no give, the line wraps tighter and tighter around a leg, wing or neck constricting the blood flow and functionality of the organs, blood vessels and muscles in that area. A fish hook that an animal desperately tries to remove causes lacerations and tears leading to blood loss, serious infections and limited function in the area affected. Some animals, such as pelicans, live with the discomfort of an imbedded fish hook in their body for long periods of time. We know this because hooks have been found in the backs, underbelly or legs of pelicans during examinations for other conditions such as wing fractures or frost bite. Some seabirds have even been found struggling to free themselves from each other because they have become entangled together by a fishing line or multi-hooked lure that was carelessly discarded by a fisherman. During the birds’ struggle they create even more injury to their legs and wings as well as possible nerve damage. Birds and other wildlife that become entangled will experience strangulation, starvation, amputation and in many cases, death. Entanglement is a slow and vicious killer! Because monofilament fishing line is transparent, it poses serious risk to all life, including human swimmers and divers who encounter it.

Photo by John Althouse

Photo by John Althouse

The negative impact of fishing gear waste is huge. Research tells us that the overall populations of seabirds have declined 69.6 percent, which is a loss of about 230 million birds in 60 years. “Seabirds are particularly good indicators of the health of marine ecosystems and when we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we also see something wrong with marine ecosystems.” This information gives us an idea of the devastating and overwhelming impact humans are having on wildlife and our environment. So for those of us who care, what can we do to improve the quality of life for wildlife and our aquatic environment? Get the word out, first and foremost! Do not accept the very little thought given to snapping a line when a fisherman’s lure is stuck on something. In your travels along beaches and recreational waterways, do the birds and other animals a huge favor by looking around trees and shrubs and notice how much fishing litter is strewn or snagged in vegetation, then carefully remove it and dispose of it properly. If you are the fisherman, always take all line and fishing gear with you when you leave. Blog&FB_2015Aug__Fishing gearRemovedX_edited-1The best way for anglers to reduce hookings and entanglements is to avoid casting near large seabird concentrations. If you are in a boat, move to another area. Most piers are large enough for birds to feed in one area, and anglers to fish in another, or take a break – flocks do not usually remain in one area for long. Using barbless hooks or artificial lures whenever possible can also help. Weight fishing lines to ensure the bait sinks rapidly, before birds can dive for it. Don’t leave fishing lines unattended. Do not feed birds or leave bait exposed because it attracts birds. Take leftover bait home so that birds and other animals don’t get accustomed to free meals. Fish remains are a problem because most seabirds swallow their prey whole. Swallowing parts of fish with exposed bones can cut a pelican’s pouch. Think about starting a program to collect fishing line by constructing and placing collecting bins in the vicinity of your local fishing spots. Please fish responsibly and encourage others to do the same. These are all steps in the right direction for the preservation of our environment and wildlife, as well as public safety. If you encounter an animal that shows signs of entanglement or has been injured in other ways by fishing gear, please call your local wildlife care facility, and they will provide instructions on how to transport the wildlife victim to their center. It’s best not to remove the dangerous fishing gear litter yourself, but to trust the application of a wildlife rehabilitator’s knowledge and skills to ensure damage is not compounded during removal. Let’s do this for our wildlife – they need us!!

BEST ALWAYS,
Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of “Save Them All

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“Otters Just Wanna Have Fun!”

Blog2015Mar_American River Otter2Full of fun, grace and beauty one might describe North American River Otters who have, over the years, been restored throughout North Carolina to their former population glory. It’s a sheer pity that these gorgeous creatures nearly became extinct in the early 1900’s due to exploitation and greed surrounding the fur trade. Otters in swampy, marshes found in our coastal regions had a better chance at survival though, because food was plenty and the wetlands areas were inaccessible to hunters and trappers. Although secretive animals, sightings are reported by outdoor enthusiasts who say given the opportunity to observe otters in the wild they became awestruck and captivated by their behaviors. Most enjoyable to watch is the spirited otters’ expression of fun as they revel in sliding down mud hills into the river or skidding across snow like they are riding a skimmer board. And boy do they like to play and frolic! Reported as some of the most playful wild animals, young otters love to wrestle and chase each other, and both activities are good training for survival skills; agility, endurance and the raw power they need as an adult otter. At the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, we have only experienced one admit of a river otter in many years. He was a youngster found alone and unable to fend for himself. It was important to maintain his wild side while being raised at the shelter, so important that a staff member posted a sign for everyone to see: “Do Not Speak to the Otter.” He was adorable but also wild and meant to stay wild; therefore, we were very careful in preventing our little otter from habituating with humans. He had many vocalizations, and we came to know when he was hungry and when he needed attention. Otters are very social animals, so the goal was to pack on some weight, ensure expert swimming accomplishments, teach him to hunt and ready him to colonize with other otters. The North American River Otter is a carnivore mammal that belongs to the Mustelidae family, along with weasels and minks. They look very similar to a weasel, only much, much larger, weighing up to 30 lbs and measuring nearly 4 feet in length. Otters have characteristic elongated and streamlined bodies with stout and sturdy legs. Their waterproof fur is a sleek, dense dark brown with a light tan underbelly, and their face is adorned with a cute oval and blunt snout. River Otters have a thick neck, a long furry and thick tail, extensive whiskers used for detecting vibrations indicating the proximity of prey, and their eyes and ears are found high on their head to aid in surface swimming. Blog2015Mar_River Otter3They can go deep in the water as well, a depth of 60 feet has been recorded, and they can stay under for up to eight minutes. Otters have that nictitating membrane that covers and protects their eyes while swimming under-water. Their feet have five toes with nonretractable claws and webbing between each toe which helps them maneuver in a variety of marine and fresh-water habitats ranging from slow moving coastal streams to rapidly running mountain streams. On land, frisky otters can leap and run almost as effectively as they swim and have been clocked as fast as 18 mph. Generally nocturnal, otters are semi-aquatic predators who feed on fish, crayfish, crabs, rodents, birds, eggs and amphibians such as frogs. Although they need to be near water, which provides most of their food source, they spend two-thirds of their time on land. They live in dens with many tunnel openings along the river bank or they may take up residence in a convenient log jam, thick cover vegetation or any natural cavity they find. Although the fun-loving otter is not known as a fighter, it will charge or scratch those who invade their feces marked territory. They communicate with each other by whistling, growling, chuckling or screaming. Their scent glands near the base of their tail also produce a form of communication by allowing them to mark scent a musky odor, fencing off their home range. Otters live in bands of 5 to 10 adults with spring breeding season pups. Otters become sexually mature within two years, although many males do not mate until they are 5 to 7 years of age, but when they do, they are promiscuous and will breed with a number of females during breeding season. Pups are born in the spring after “delayed implantation” which means the female may have been impregnated almost a year before. Three to six, fully furred pups are born weighing 4 to 6 ounces and will nurse from Mom for only three months but usually remain with her for almost a year. Blog2015Mar_River OtterThe male is not considered part of the family and does not help with pup rearing. It might be that “cheating” thing! All Otters must be wary of predators such as bobcats, coyotes or fox, domestic dogs, black bear, large raptors such as eagles, alligators and man (intentional or unintentional). Although, they mainly escape predation through their agility in the water, they aren’t quite as quick and maneuverable on land. North American River Otters are, themselves, important predators who help maintain a healthy, aquatic ecosystem by eating “trash” fish that compete with more economically desirable game fish, and the presence of otters generally does not affect humans in any adverse way. An otter’s life expectancy in the wild is 8 to 9 years, although in captivity, a record high of 21 years is reported. When our young otter of years ago was ready for the move from our rehabilitative intensive care in the shelter facility to the great outdoors, we moved him into the reinforced pelican enclosure (in the absence of pelicans at the time), which accommodated him with a grand pool and ground cover. His otter skills developed rapidly, and although his weight was up, he fished on his own and displayed Olympic swimmer moves, he seemed lonely and sad, so we urgently made arrangements to transport him to a rehabilitator’s home in Merrimon, NC along the river where otter presence was known. We set up his makeshift den close to the house where our volunteer, Heather, could keep an eye on his comings and goings and provide supplement food. Routinely, she watched him go to the river to eat and play, then return to his otter apartment daily, but within a few weeks, she started to see him less and less. Blog2015Mar_342174_640Our theory is; he eventually found others of his own kind down the water way, and because he was so darned cute, we’re almost certain our otter has had a positive impact in helping to repopulate the North American River Otters in our coastal region. You go boy, and hope you’re still having fun!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All”

Happy Spring Everyone!!!!!!!